When on Friday, February 28, 1986, Samuel Cookey, a professor of political science, who had just been given an appointment by then military President, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, IBB, wrote a letter requesting the Yoruba sage, Pa Obafemi Jeremiah Awolowo, to avail the Nigerian state the benefit of his wisdom, he (Cookey) did not bargain for what would be the response.
Babangida had promised the Nigerian nation that he would enthrone a new social order by doing away with the politics of the past, bring in new breed politicians and change the political landscape. And since he was not going to wave the magic wand, he sought and got Cookey to chair a Political Bureau.
That Bureau was saddled with the responsibility of fashioning out, after due consultations with Nigerians via memoranda and public presentations, a new political order.
It was in the pursuit of this mandate that the professor wrote to Pa Awolowo, requesting his participation and views.
To that request, Awolowo wrote the following:
“I received your letter of February 28, 1986, and sincerely thank you for doing me the honour of inviting me to contribute to the National Political Debate.
“The purpose of the debate is to clarify our thoughts in our search for a new social order.
“It is therefore meet and proper that all those who have something to contribute should do so.
“I do fervently and will continue fervently to pray that I may be proved wrong.
“For something within me tells me, loud and clear, that we have embarked on a fruitless search.
“At the end of the day, when we imagine that the new order is here, we would be terribly disappointed.
“In other words, at the threshold of our New Social Order, we would see for ourselves that, as long as Nigerians remain what they are, nothing clean, principled, ethical, and idealistic can work with them.
“And Nigerians will remain what they are, unless the evils which now dominate their hearts, at all levels and in all sectors of our political, business and governmental activities are exorcised.
“But I venture to assert that they will not be exorcised, and indeed they will be firmly entrenched, unless God Himself imbues a vast majority of us with a revolutionary change of attitude to life and politics or, unless the dialetic processes which have been at work for some twenty years now, perforce, make us perceive the abominable filth that abounds in our society, to the end that an inexorable abhorrence of it will be quickened in our hearts and impel us to make drastic changes for the better.
“There is, of course, an alternative option open to us.
“To succumb to permanent social instability and chaos.
“In the premises, I beg to decline your invitation.
“I am yours truly, Obafemi Awolowo”
It’s 33 years now that Awo wrote this letter. It is clear in my mind that this deep thinker saw into the future as time continues to validate his thoughts. Nigeria may have inadvertently chosen the alternative – “permanent social instability and chaos”. Otherwise, how else does one explain what has been happening in Nigeria?
I remember in 1982 or so when he returned from his annual spiritual retreat, scores of journalists gathered at the airport to interrogate him. One of the questions posted was to query his thoughts on how Nigeria can be redeemed and placed on the path of growth. He replied emphatically that Nigeria is beyond redemption and there was no more hope. His political opponents dismiss his statement with ignominy and tagged him a prophet of doom.
Prior to that and before his departure for his spiritual retreat, he raised an alarm that Nigeria was sliding very fast in economic and social order metrics. He said there remained a slim chance to change the course of events and save Nigeria. He reeled out immediate steps to be taken by the government but he was labeled alarmist and his counsels were treated politically.
Today, only those who enjoy chaos thrive in Nigeria. It has been tragedies since then.
(Copied with solemn sobriety and respectful admiration for his courage and truthfulness)